NASA scientist explores possibility of life on Mars

By By Paige Fieldsted

By Paige Fieldsted

Many civilians and scientists alike have asked the question: Is there intelligent life beyond Earth?

Matthew P. Golombek, senior research assistant at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and author of popular book Mars: Uncovering the Secrets of the Red Planet, will be at the U on Jan. 31 to address that very question.

“Evidence indicates the environment on Mars was similar to the Earth when life started on Earth,” Golombek said. “Will life begin anywhere that liquid water is stable (the key requirement for life) or are we an accident of the highest order?”

Golombek is the science operations team leader for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. He was also the chief scientist for the Pathfinder mission, which landed a spacecraft and the Sojourner rover on Mars in July 1997.

While the climate of Mars has no affect on Earth’s climate, Golembek said, “If Mars was warm and wet in the past, what happened that led to such an inhospitable climate? Are such changes in climate common and could such a change happen on Earth?”

Previous missions to Mars have shown deep lake-like craters, as well as wide channels that could have once held rivers.

“So if Mars was habitable early in its history, did life develop there, or are we alone in the solar system and the universe?” Golombek said in a written statement.

Golombek will present his research, at the 40th Frontiers of Science Lecture series, to be held on Wednesday, Jan. 31, in the ASB Auditorium.

“Students will have an opportunity to see and hear a senior NASA research scientist discuss the latest discoveries on Mars,” said James DeGooyer, spokesperson for the college of science.

Golombek will discuss the two current rover missions (Spirit and Opportunity), how they got there, what they have accomplished, major scientific findings and give an update on the two rovers, as both are still on Mars.

Katharine Osborn, a senior biology major, said, “I am excited to go because (Golombek) is a scientist from another campus. He is bringing information from another area that we can’t get anywhere else.”

In addition to the lecture, representatives from the University Bookstore will be there to sell Golombek’s book, and Golombek will conduct a book signing.

The lecture is free and open to the public, and will begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the ASB auditorium.